Food & Daily life

Early food influences

A family eating dinner, AlgeriaWith its rich history, Algeria’s cuisine reflects a variety of cultural influences. Semolina/durum wheat was a staple of the Berbers; steamed, it turns into couscous, which remains a staple of Algerian cooking to this day.

Couscous is the French spelling of the Arabic kuskus. Couscous dishes (often served with lamb, chicken or cooked vegetables) are so common, they’re often referred to as ta’am in Arabic, which simply translates as ‘food’. Other kinds of grain – such as bulgur wheat and barley – can also be steamed (in a couscoussier) to create different varieties of couscous.

A spiced-up soup

Spicy chorba soupMany dishes, especially stews, soups and sausages, have a hot or spicy flavour. A popular spicy soup is chorba.

The Arabs brought spices such as saffron, nutmeg and cinnamon.

European foods join the mix

The Ottoman Turks brought their love of sweet pastries to the region. Other local sweets incorporate the staple wheat, such as tamina, which is roasted semolina with butter and honey.

In former Spanish-controlled cities, such as Oran, dishes such as paella are popular. The French introduced their loaves and sidewalk cafés. Many eating places today serve traditional North African foods such as tajines (lamb or chicken stews) and drinks, such as mint tea and strong black coffee, Turkish-style.

Locally-grown crops, such as potatoes, tomatoes, onions, chickpeas, olives and dates, are common ingredients in Algerian dishes. In Saharan regions, dates and figs and hard cheeses such as goats cheese, are eaten with flat unleavened breads baked over fires.

Daily life and housing pressures

A tower block in Algiers, AlgeriaLife in many Algerian households keeps to traditional patterns. Married women stay in the home, taking care of the household and family. Men go out to work and spend time outside the home in activities such as shopping or socialising. In Algerian law, women are not considered equal to men.

However, the role of women varies by region. For example, Tuareg women have great influence over social matters and finance, especially since women inherit from their families.

Traditional lifestyles are also changing in many places, particularly as climate change threatens pastoral and nomadic lifestyles. Many Algerians are leaving rural areas to look for work in the cities and this influx is causing great strain on urban areas. Two-thirds of people now live in towns and cities.

Poor families often live in flimsily constructed shanty dwellings with no running water, electricity or sanitation. The government has initiated a programme to build a million new housing units by 2014, but demand for flats is extremely high.

In most households, Islam has a strong influence over daily life. But attitudes vary in terms of how conservatively or otherwise the religion is practised – see People & Culture. Nevertheless, customs generally remain traditional; for example, it is still common for marriages to be arranged between families.